Posts Tagged ‘Julius Randle’

Morning Shootaround — July 27


VIDEO: The NBA’s connections in Africa are as strong as they are deep, courtesy of Basketball Without Borders

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reluctant Popovich is a “lifer” | Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal | Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans | Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire

No. 1: Reluctant Pop is a “lifer” — His life is much more than just basketball, but that doesn’t mean San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will escape the lifelong grip the game of basketball has on so many. Pop almost escaped in recent years, but a huge free agent summer (LaMarcus Aldridge and David West join, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard all sign new deals, etc.) will keep him on the sideline for the foreseeable future. It turns out that Pop will end up being a “lifer” (like his mentor and good friend Larry Brown) after all, as the great Buck Harvey of the Express News details:

Popovich goes to Africa this week to coach an exhibition game, proof the energy inside this 66-year-old man is real. It’s also proof he is far past the challenge he faced last year, when both his health and the health of his franchise were in doubt.

His hip surgery had gone well, but there was a hiccup with a heart condition that was not unlike the atrial fibrillation that Fab Oberto had. Popovich underwent a procedure, and, after he had done everything the doctors had asked, palpitations returned.

Brown says the episode occurred during the preseason tour in Europe. That eventually culminated with Popovich missing two games in late November for a second procedure.

“I really believe he was close to retiring then,” Brown said.

What if Popovich had been forced to walk away? Would Tim Duncan have returned for another season? Would LaMarcus Aldridge have ever considered signing with the Spurs?

The same dynamic is also in place for a healthy Popovich. The Spurs aren’t the Spurs without him. He stays, in part, because he feels an obligation to.

Popovich long ago told Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker he would coach them through the end of their careers, although Parker gave him an out. Given that he’s younger than Duncan and Ginobili, Parker told Popovich he would understand if he retired earlier than he did.

But the obligation went further this summer. How could Popovich sell Aldridge on the franchise, and on the culture of winning he had created, if he said he might not stick around?

This was never the way Popovich saw his life playing out. For all the success he has had, and so much he never could have imagined, he couldn’t shake the idea there was more than basketball out there.

He said almost a decade ago, for example, he wasn’t built like a Jerry Sloan. And in a recent ESPN article he revealed this was his thinking after the 2013 Finals:

“I thought about retiring. Not so much because of the loss, but because there are other things to do in life.”

He went through similar soul-searching after the 2014 championship. Popovich talked to Brown about it then.

Brown, 74 and eager to begin another season at SMU, calls himself a lifer. Brown acknowledges he and his good friend are different on this.

“Pop can separate himself better than I can,” he said.

But Brown thought leaving a year ago would have been a mistake. He told Popovich to wait before making a decision, and Brown asked him this question:

“You just won a championship. Who is going to follow you?”

This gets back to his obligation. Leave, and the Spurs are forever changed.

***

No. 2: Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal — The move surprised no one. Brendan Haywood has been caught in trade rumors since the February trade deadline. So the Cavaliers finally moving the veteran big man, in a deal for trade exceptions of $10.5 and $2.85 million and two future 2nd round Draft Pick, is no surprise. The addition of veteran swingman and LeBron James friend, collaborator and confidant Mike Miller, was an added twist that comes as a mild surprise. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group provides some context:

The Cavaliers had a deadline of Aug. 1 to trade or release Haywood before his salary for the 2015-16 season became guaranteed. Portland will waive Haywood before the guaranteed deadline.

Haywood’s departure was inevitable. He played a grand total of 119 minutes for the club last season. The shocker of the transaction is Miller’s involvement.

Statistically, all across the board, Miller just endured the worst season of his 15-year NBA career.

A league source says Miller approved the trade, as he wanted to play for a team where he would have a chance to see significant minutes. Miller will seek a buyout from the rebuilding Trail Blazers to pursue a team that will promise him a spot in a rotation.

Miller exercised his $2.8 million player option for next season at the end of June.

He is a great friend of LeBron James. The four-time MVP recruited Miller last offseason to provide shooting assistance, but he never found his shooting stroke and David Blatt was reluctant to commit playing time to the veteran.

I’m told James understand Miller’s situation and is “OK with the move.” He was not OK with the Miami Heat when they traded Miller to Memphis in the summer of 2013 in order to avoid major luxury tax penalties.

Times have changed.

***

No. 3: Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans — For all of the stars who are set to attend USA Basketball’s minicamp next month in Las Vegas, there is one who seems to have little interest in going through the process again. Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has been there and done that and does not feel like he’s in the program’s master plan after missing out on a roster spot last year. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian has more:

It appears that one Trail Blazers player will participate in an August minicamp for USA Basketball. But it won’t be Damian Lillard.

According to ESPN, center Mason Plumlee has been invited to participate in a three-day minicamp for the US National Team that will take place next month in Las Vegas. It will be the second consecutive summer that Mason, who played on Team USA in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, will don red, white and blue.

His participation in next month’s event ensures that he will have the chance to make the 12-man team that will represent the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Meanwhile, it appears that Lillard, the Blazers’ All-Star point guard, will not participate in next month’s minicamp. During a Saturday night appearance on CBS Radio, Lillard told host Jody Mac he would “probably not” play.

“I did it the last few summers and last summer I didn’t make it,” Lillard said, when Mac asked why he wouldn’t participate. “I don’t know why I would go. After I got cut last summer, I don’t think I’m a part of it.”

Lillard did not respond to a text message from The Oregonian/OregonLive seeking comment.

Last summer, Lillard was one of the final cuts on the FIBA World Cup team. And while he publicly expressed appreciation for the chance to represent his country — and said he was not “worried or down about the situation” — he privately felt slighted by his omission from the team.

“More wood on the fire,” Lillard told The Oregonian/OregonLive last summer. “Not my first time being put off and probably not the last.”

***

No. 4: Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire — A golden era will come to an end after next season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, Kobe Bryant is entering the final year of his contract. But it’s longtime trainer Gary Vitti, a fixture on the sideline in Los Angeles for decades dating back to the Magic Johnson and “Showtime Lakers,” who is retiring. Again, this will mark the end of an era, as Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times reports. Kurt Helin of Probasketballtalk.com summarizes the scope of Viti’s time with the Lakers:

Vitti, a part of the Laker fabric, talked about it with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

“From a basketball standpoint, the greatest championship would be 1985, the first time we beat Boston,” Vitti said as he slowly consumed an open-faced gyro at an upscale Manhattan Beach restaurant near his home. “We lost to the Celtics the year before and should have beat them. A lot of my interview with Riley was him talking about that. He said to me, ‘We need to win.’”

Vitti has had a special place within the Lakers. He’s a liaison between the players and coaches/front office. He sits close to Byron Scott on the bench. It’s a job he has grown into and is passionate about. When the Lakers health fortunes turned on the team in the past few years, some of the louder than smart Lakers fans online blamed Vitti. Wiser fans knew that what happened to Steve Nash’s nerves, Kobe’s Achilles, Julius Randle‘s leg, and on down the list were not on the training staff.

Vitti could have stayed on as long as he wanted. But it’s time, he said.

“When somebody gets hurt, I blame myself. That’s the Laker way — you’ve got a problem, you go in the bathroom, you look in the mirror, you start with that person,” Vitti said. “The one that really affected me and maybe even affected this decision [to retire] was Julius Randle. All of his doctors and his surgeon are saying that nothing was missed, but the guy goes out there and breaks his leg the first game [last season]. That one really bothered me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Love and Kevin Durant both to attend USA Basketball minicamp, though they are not expected to play in exhibition gameDennis Rodman defends his former tag team partner Hulk Hogan … The Lakers’ Nick Young, aka“Swaggy P” is still trying to come to grips with the fact that he was serious trade bait this summer …

Morning Shootaround — July 13




VIDEO: Should the Thunder have matched the offer sheet for Enes Kanter?

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas | Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? | Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC | Jack ready to replace Williams | Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns

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No. 1: Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas — While other members of his Draft class are adjusting to the rigors of the NBA during their respective summer league debuts, Denver Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is drawing rave reviews from every direction after his initial steps in the Las Vegas Summer League. There is a reason he sticks out, according to Rob Mahoney of SI.com:

The product on the floor at the Las Vegas Summer League is, by the tyranny of literal definition, basketball. It’s just a form of basketball so far removed from the NBA’s version as to complicate player evaluation. The best and worst performances alike come with the caveat that summer league is a world all its own: The talent level is lower, the continuity is nonexistent, and the context of play is altogether distinct.

The true standouts in Vegas, then, are those who demonstrate the kinds of skills that can cut through the divide. Count Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay among them. A combined 14 assists (including 10 on Sunday against Sacramento) in his first two summer league games doesn’t do him justice. Mudiay is such a smooth playmaker that he gives a makeshift offense of make-good prospects an actual rhythm.

Mudiay sees the game in a way that allows for that. There are prospects all across the summer league pool with rotation-quality speed or handle. Mudiay has both, stands a solid 6’5″, and has the vision to see all of a possession’s opportunities. Whenever his drives bring multiple defenders to the ball, Mudiay monitors even those options that might first seem unavailable: The half-defended roll man, the zoned-up shooter on the weak side, or the cutter caught in a crowd. His every step and spin revises those possibilities.

“I learned so much in China,” Mudiay said.  “Just slowing the game down, seeing where everybody’s at, knowing where everybody’s at. That really helped me.”

Just before the defense can settle, Mudiay creates. A cross-court pass will zip into the pocket of an available teammate from a difficult angle, bringing his drive-and-kick to a potent conclusion. Rare are those point guards who can not just find and exploit openings, but also keep defenses guessing. Mudiay has some of that spice—the ability to look past a good first option into a great (but challenging) second option. Corner shooters and hard rollers are going to love him.

“I can score when I need to but at the same time, [the Kings] were giving me wide open lanes,” Mudiay said. “Me finding my teammates, that was the main important thing. I found my teammates. How ever the other team’s playing me, that’s how I’m going to play.”

***

No. 2: Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? — In this summer’s free agent landscape, spending $1.4 million on a rotation big like Andrea Bargnani would appear to be a pretty good bargain for the Brooklyn Nets. Our John Schuhmann is not as confident in the addition of Bargnani as the decision-makers in Brooklyn:

It seems like a low-risk move by the Nets, who apparently stole Bargnani from the Sacramento Kings, who had offered him more than the minimum. But at this point in his career, it’s unclear what Bargnani has to offer any team who dares to pay him anything.

Bargnani has long been a bad defender. Of 386 players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the nine years since Bargnani came into the league, only three – Ryan Gomes (108.9), Hakim Warrick(108.9) and Charlie Villanueva (109.5) – have had a higher on-court DefRtg (the number of points a player’s team allows per 100 possessions) than Bargnani (108.8).

He’s not a good (or willing) passer; His assist rate (7.4 assists per 100 possessions used) ranks 351st among those 386 players. And he’s a terrible rebounder for his size; he’s grabbed less than 10 percent of available rebounds when he’s been on the floor.

Bargnani is supposed to be a shooter and a floor spacer. But he has shot just 30 percent from 3-point range over the last four seasons.

He did shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc with the Knicks last season, but that was on just 41 attempts. And that’s the real issue. Bargnani doesn’t shoot many threes (or really space the floor) anymore.

In his first four seasons in the league, Bargnani took about one mid-range shot (between the paint and the 3-point line) for every 3-pointer. But over the last five seasons, his mid-range-to-threes rate has doubled.

Bargnani is a decent mid-range shooter. But even over the last five years, his mid-range shots (43.3 percent, 0.87 points per shot) haven’t been worth as much as his threes (31.8 percent, 0.95 points per shot).

Bargnani doesn’t shoot well or often in the paint. And if he fancies himself a shooter and/or a floor spacer, he can’t be taking twice as many mid-range shots as 3-pointers. Last year’s rate of more than 4-to-1 is just awful.

Speaking of awful, last year’s Knicks went 17-65. And they were at their worst, getting outscored by 17.5 points per 100 possessions (16.5 points per 48 minutes), when Bargnani was on the floor.

The Nets needed another big to back up Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez. Before Sunday, their only centers were Lopez and Willie Reed, who has never played in a NBA game.

But there were better options out there than Bargnani, who hasn’t been good at his one good skill in several years. It’s especially strange that a team looking to make moves with cap space next summer would dedicate any 2016-17 money (even if it’s a player option for the minimum) to a player like Bargnani. And my goodness, his relationship with an old-school, defense-first coach like Lionel Hollins will be fascinating to watch.

The good news for the Nets is that they didn’t give up three draft picks to get him.

 

***

No. 3: Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC — Now that the Thunder have matched Portland’s $70 million offer for Thunder restricted free agent Enes Kanter, it’s time for the big man to prove his worth on a healthy team that is ticketed for big things during the 2015-16 season. Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman paints the picture in Oklahoma City:

 

The offense should be no problem. Kanter was superb offensively with the Thunder. In 26 games, Kanter averaged 18.7 points and 5.0 offensive rebounds per game. He shot 56.6 percent from the field. He scored inside; he scored outside. And Kanter wasn’t a black hole. He averaged a career-high 1.3 assists per 36 minutes. Serge Ibaka’s career high is 1.1.

But defensively? Total disaster. Historic, in many ways. The Thunder was so glad to have a healthy body, especially a big body who put the ball in the basket, that Kanter’s defense was glossed over. But it was bad. To borrow a phrase from Chris Paul. Bad, bad, bad.

When Kanter was traded from Utah on Feb. 19, the Thunder ranked ninth in NBA defense — 99.7 points per 100 possessions. The Jazz ranked 26th, 104.9.

In two months, basically a third of a season, Utah caught the Thunder. The Jazz finished 13th in NBA defense, 101.3 points per 100 possessions. OKC was 15th, 101.8.

The Jazz improvement wasn’t just addition by subtraction. It was addition by addition — 7-foot-3 Rudy Gobert moved into the starting lineup, and the Jazz was transformed. Utah was 19-34 with Kanter; the Jazz was 19-10 without Kanter.

The Thunder’s defense suddenly cratered with Kanter playing 30 minutes a night. The final 17 games was without Serge Ibaka, which will sink many a defense, but still, that doesn’t explain the total collapse.

A new defensive statistic is really telling. Defensive real plus-minus, which measures a player’s impact on team defensive performance. It might be the closest thing we have to a rock-bottom defensive value.

Kanter ranked 469th out of 474 NBA players measured. Read that again. Kanter ranked above only Sacramento’s Derrick Williams, the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, the Lakers’ Jabari Brown and Brooklyn’s Bojan Bogdanovic.

Kanter ranked last among 71 centers. The worst defensive center in the league was the guy the Thunder has committed to paying $70 million.

And it’s not like 2014-15 was an aberration. The season before, Kanter ranked 61st out of 62 centers, ahead only of Milwaukee’s John Henson.

Again, offensively, Kanter is a jewel. He ranked seventh among NBA centers in offensive real plus-minus, ahead of stars like Chris Bosh and Al Horford and Dwight Howard. So Kanter is the total package offensively. But that defense will kill you, as we learned down the stretch of the star-crossed season recently completed.

***

No. 4: Jack ready to replace Williams — The departure of Deron Williams in Brooklyn leaves a gaping hole in the lineup at point guard. Veteran Jarrett Jack insists he is ready to replace Williams, if that’s what Nets GM Billy King and coach Lionel Hollins need him to do. Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News has more:

Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson always planned to attend NBA summer league in Las Vegas as a team-building experience.

But addressing reporters late Saturday night in Cox Pavilion, circumstances had obviously changed.

Deron Williams, the former face of the franchise, was waived Saturday afternoon — the Nets agreeing to buy out the remaining two years and $43.3 million of his contract for $27.5 million.

The move allows the Nets to duck under the luxury cap threshold and increase their salary cap space for 2016-17.

But Williams’ departure also creates a job opening at point guard.

While coach Lionel Hollins and GM Billy King danced around questions of who will take over the role, it’s assumed that Jack, a well-liked veteran who started 27 games last season and came up big in late-game situations, will play the part with perhaps newly acquired Shane Larkin also pushing for minutes.

“If that’s the position they want me to fill, I’m definitely very ready to do so,” Jack said. “It’s not my first rodeo as far as being thrust into the (starter’s) role if that were to be the case. So it’s something that’s not foreign to me and (I’m) definitely ready for the challenge.”

Jack said he spoke to Williams on Friday about his exit out of Brooklyn.

Williams is expected to sign a two-year, $10 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks after he clears waivers on Monday.

“He was in good spirits, going back to his hometown team, thought he might have needed a change of scenery, you know, which is cool,” Jack said. “In professional sports, happiness is a thing that we don’t get to control a lot. It seems like he’s happy with the new situation and I’m definitely happy for him and hope he does well.”

***

No. 5: Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns — All the moves made this summer in Phoenix have Eric Bledsoe believing that the Suns are a playoff team in the rugged Western Conference. That means his commitment to the Suns and to improved leadership are crucial to the cause. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains:

Eric Bledsoe is known for doing impressive things during the NBA season.

Bledsoe’s offseason sounded impressive too but the work and dedication was out of sight until he showed up for training camps looking like the “after” photo in a fitness advertisement.

This is the offseason where Bledsoe’s dedication goes beyond fitness. He has had a presence in everything the Suns have been doing.

Bledsoe pledged to spend his summer in Phoenix rather than the usual return to his hometown, Birmingham, but his engagement has gone beyond a permanent address in the Valley.

Bledsoe has been working out at US Airways Center. He attended draft workouts. He held a youth basketball camp. He was part of the Suns’ recruiting group that pitched LaMarcus Aldridge. He came to Las Vegas on Saturday to join the Suns’ summer team workouts and watch their NBA Summer League games.

To Bledsoe, it is all part of becoming a playoff team.

“I just thought it was important to be around this summer to put the work in and to show that I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “I was working out with some of the newer guys and I built relations with Archie (Goodwin), T.J. (Warren) and Alex (Len)during the season. I told them I’d come here and check them out to see how much they’ve improved.”

Bledsoe hesitates to proclaim that the team is better than last season yet with “work still to be done.” He did say that the team is in “a better place” than at the end of last season, citing better health, relationship building and the potential to win.

Aldridge was considered a lock to sign with San Antonio this offseason but Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and new Suns center Tyson Chandler were part of the Suns group that at least swayed him momentarily.

“I’m out here to show I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “However I can possibly help the team get better, that’s what I’m going to do. Recruiting-wise, they needed me to get one of the top free agents. We missed out just by a hair but we got an even better post player (Chandler) and I think he’s going to help Alex. He’ll help defensively. He’s got the mentality of a player who’s won a championship and had a whole bunch of success in this league. It’ll help rub off on everybody else, especially the young guys.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bucks and John Henson are closing in on extension talks for the big man … New York Daily News reporter tries out for but fails to make Nets’ dance team … Zaza Pachulia is going from the oldest to a relative youngster in his move from Milwaukee to Dallas

Morning shootaround — July 11


VIDEO: Anthony-Towns, Russell square off in Vegas

D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding | Clash of the titans in Summer League | Jordan apologizes publicly | Evolution of the Kings

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding — The Brooklyn Nets planned to make a splash when they hopped a few rivers to get from Jersey to the city, and part of that impact was supposed to come from building around point guard Deron Williams. As our own John Schuhmann details, the Nets gave up a lot to get Williams, both in terms of finances and personnel, but things never quite worked out the way they’d hoped. With Williams’ departure (via buyout) for his hometown of Dallas, it’s time for the Nets to look for a different path to success…

Williams was dealing with ankle issues for most of his Nets tenure, missing 32 games over the last two seasons. He shot a career-low 39 percent in 2014-15.

Of course, he was still the Nets’ best point guard by a wide margin. The offense fell apart when he was replaced with (or played alongside) Jarrett Jack. Though Brooklyn was outscored by 236 points over the course of the season, Williams was just a minus-14 in more than 2,000 minutes. Jack was a minus-315.

So the move to part ways with Williams takes the Nets’ offense down a notch. But it also saves Prokhorov a ton of money. With Williams’ full salary on the books, the Nets were set to pay another $44 million in luxury tax this coming season, subject to the repeater tax levels.

With a buyout that reduces the $43 million they owe him to $27.5 million, and with the stretch provision that stretches the remaining money over five years instead of two, Brooklyn’s 2015-16 payroll can get below the luxury tax line completely. That’s a big thing for this year and going forward.

The damage isn’t completely done. They’ll still be paying Williams $5-6 million each year through the 2019-20 season, and they still owe Boston those picks in 2016 and 2018, with the potential pick swap the year in between.

The Nets still haven’t competed for a championship since Kidd was the point guard. They went 153-159 in Williams’ four full seasons with the franchise, winning just 10 playoff games. Health was an issue. Williams and Brook Lopez played just 159 (47 percent) of a possible 337 regular season games together.

The past is the past, though. Now, the Nets can finally move on. They still have some veteran talent – Johnson, Lopez and Thaddeus Young – on the roster. They’re building around the two re-signed bigs and are making a clear effort to get younger and more athletic.

***

No. 2: Clash of the titans in Summer League — It didn’t take long for the Las Vegas Summer League to produce drama: Just minutes into the tourney, number 1 overall Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and his Minnesota Timberwolves faced off against number 2 pick D’Angelo Russell and the Los Angeles Lakers. And by all accounts, as Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, both players produced, and showed they have room to grow…

With a record-setting crowd of 12,422 fans in attendance at the Las Vegas summer league, all eyes were on Minnesota rookie Karl-Anthony Towns as he took his first shot as an NBA player.

Air ball.

“I didn’t even want to shoot the basketball,” Towns said on his first shot — a 3-pointer — as a pro. “It’s just rookie jitters. Even though I’m the No. 1 pick, I’m not going to be perfect.”

It was a forgettable first attempt but the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft will likely laugh about it one day.

Towns finished Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers with 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field, missed both 3-point attempts and made all but one of five free throws. The 6-foot-11, 250-pounder averaged 21.1 minutes per game as a true freshman on a University of Kentucky team deep in talent.

In his Minnesota summer league debut, however, the 19-year-old played a challenging 31 minutes.

While Towns didn’t have the monster debut he hoped for, the Timberwolves finished with an 81-68 victory over the Lakers in a battle against No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell.

“I started out like any other rookie,” Towns said. “I ain’t going to lie. I had a lot of butterflies. I was very nervous. My legs felt heavy. It’s your first game out.”

***

No. 3: Jordan apologizes publicly — DeAndre Jordan‘s 11th hour change of heart may have saved the immediate future for the Los Angeles Clippers, but it did something like the opposite for the Dallas Mavericks, making them scramble to change course and make the best out of what was left on the free agent market. Last night, Jordan took to Twitter to apologize to Dallas owner Mark Cuban and Mavs fans, as well as tell Clippers fans he was excited to be returning…

***

No. 4: Evolution of the Kings — No one said it would be easy. Despite their best efforts, the Sacramento Kings have been stuck on the outside of the Western Conference playoff race the last few years. In their latest iteration, the leadership of Vlade Divac and George Karl hasn’t seemed to connect with star center DeMarcus Cousins. As Shaun Powell writes, that relationship may just remain a work in progress…

George Karl wouldn’t discuss the state of his relationship with DeMarcus Cousins — “I’m not authorized to speak about that,” he said on the first day of the Samsung NBA Summer League — which means the mending remains a work in progress. The hectic summer in Sacramento turned loopy when Cousins used a snake-in-the-grass emoji on Twitter last month to characterize Karl as disloyal and distrustful. Cousins, according to those close to him, is charging Karl of trying to get him traded and has refused to speak with Karl. That in turn raised the issue of whether Karl and not Cousins would be shipped out of town. It became a big mess and it doesn’t appear the two have a working relationship or that it’ll be settled soon if ever.

Both are notoriously stubborn, which makes you wonder if Karl or Cousins are willing or even able to patch things up. Karl has had disagreements with players before, yet managed to win games (though not a championship). Cousins has rubbed his previous coaches raw, and hasn’t won anything. Karl wanted to change the culture when he arrived in the middle of last season and his methods obviously didn’t sit well with Cousins. And five months later, here they are.

Both have put Vlade Divac, the Kings’ new general manager, in a tight spot, if not in the role of peace maker and referee. Divac was coy when asked about their relationship.

“Every day it’s getting better,” he said.

That’s it?

“That’s it.”

Clearly, Divac is siding with Cousins if only because there aren’t many centers averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds and with Cousins’ skill set. Although troubled in the past by his lack of maturity and fragile temper — Cousins has led all players in technical fouls over the last 3 years — Cousins made strides over the last season to reduce his disruptive tendencies. Making Team USA last summer and then the All-Star team have sedated him, made him more coachable, although some of his sharp edges remain.

Sensing a desperate franchise led by a first-time GM, plenty of teams tried to get Cousins by offering 50 centers on the dollar this summer once the Karl-Cousins relationship took another wicked turn, and wisely, Divac didn’t bite.

“He’s a great kid with great potential and I”m happy to work with him,” Divac said. “There’s nothing out there that would make me pull the trigger.”
And what about the status of Karl, who has three years left on his contract? Curiously Divac shrugged his way through his response.
“Well, we’ll see. He has to win the games. He’s a coach who brings a lot of experience. He knows how to fix things, so we’ll see.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Today Becky Hammon will make history as the first female head coach of an NBA team in a Summer League game … Perhaps overshadowed by the debut of Towns and Russell was the return of Julius RandleLeBron James hosted a premiere for his new movie Trainwreck in his hometown of Akron … Kevin Garnett is officially back in Minnesota

Randle has upbeat return for Lakers

LAS VEGAS — He got cheered just for walking on the court to start the game, an ovation for standing up from the bench and pulling a grey T-shirt over his head to check in midway through the second quarter, and a while after that, the crowd revved in anticipation when he caught the ball about 12 feet from the basket while being guarded by No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns.

Julius Randle didn’t need to do anything Friday night to have done something. He was playing. Not well, as it turned out, but just being back with the Lakers inside Thomas & Mack Center for summer league missing six of nine shots and grabbing all of one rebound in 21 minutes  was secondary.

A year ago at this time, Randle was the new No. 7 pick, the foundation of the post-Kobe Bryant Lakers as a power forward with an inside game and, many teams believed, the potential to add a nice mid-range game. Eight and a half months ago — Oct. 28, 2014, at Staples Center — he broke his right leg in the fourth quarter of the season opener against the Rockets.

Friday was a test drive and an update for Randle and the medical staff. And it was a success. All those missed shots, all those non-rebounds, all the rust… and all those positive emotions around the Lakers about getting him back on the court.

“It felt great,” he said.

Exactly.

The effects of the layoff were obvious. Additionally, he played with a limit of 20 minutes, though actually went crazy and got all the way to 20 minutes 40 seconds, and will be held out Saturday against the 76ers at Thomas & Mack to avoid the potential physical strain of a back-to-back. The real takeaway for L.A., though, was that Randle reported no problems with the tibia or any part of the leg.

“Yeah, I was definitely rusty” he said after the Timberwolves’ 81-68 win that included 12 points, three rebounds and nine fouls for Towns in 32 minutes. “I kind of didn’t really catch a rhythm until the end. It was kind of late. But I missed so many chippies, so much stuff that I’m used to hitting, to making, and defensively also too. I was a little rusty, but like I said, I’m not worried about it. It’s a long week and the goal is the beginning of the season.”

This was a step in that direction.

 

Blogtable: Do the Lakers or Knicks have a tougher road to respectability?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Knicks or Lakers worse off? | Toughest (and easiest) division? | Talkin’ Summer League



VIDEOCharles Barkley isn’t convinced Roy Hibbert will help the Lakers

> Do the Lakers or Knicks have the tougher road back to respectability and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My hunch is, the Knicks are going to have a harder time getting back to a level at which they’re considered legitimate contenders for an NBA title. As shaky as the master plan might seem in L.A., it’s shakier in New York, what with James Dolan‘s can’t-help-himself meddling and Phil Jackson‘s half-in, half-out, triangle-devoted, smartest-guy-in-the-room theoretical approach. Carmelo Anthony‘s contract will be an albatross with legs compared to Kobe Bryant‘s one-more-season-of-fiscal-pain deal. The ex-Lakers as coaches, Byron Scott vs. Derek Fisher, that’s kind of a push, in my view. The respective rosters? Meh. What it finally comes down to, I suppose, is that I’ll take my chances with Mitch Kupchak over anyone at the Garden.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comOh, how the mighty have fallen. Now we’ve lowered the bar for the top two cities in the country from behind championship contenders to merely “respectability?” In that case, have to go with the Lakers, who are starting out with two young talents in Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell to just a single Kristaps Porzingas in New York. Also when Kobe Bryant leaves — it will happen eventually, won’t it? — the draw of the L.A. market, the Hollywood image and all that entails will allow the Lakers to attract talent.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Lakers have the tougher road, because they play in the tougher conference. As much as what was once a wide gulf has closed, the East is still more forgiving. If you want to use making the playoffs as a cutline for respectability, the Knicks can get there quicker. One other factor in the question: It is possible both teams could be in the lottery but not have their 2016 first-round pick.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It’s the Knicks with the tougher climb. Kristaps Porzingis will probably need more time to grow than D’Angelo Russell and Kobe Bryant comes off the Lakers cap next summer while Melo will weigh it down for the Knicks at least 3 more years. The Lakers can start anew next summer with Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo plus tons of cap space to chase Durant. Who knows, in 2 years they could possibly sway Blake Griffin to switch L.A. teams and/or get ex-UCLA star Russell Westbrook to “come home.” Bottom line is, with their management situation, the Lakers don’t have an “easy” road to recovery, just easier than the Knicks.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s the Knicks. As these two teams stand and given decent health, the Knicks will be the better team next season. But at best, that’s good enough to finish 8-11 in the East, which isn’t saying much. In regard to a five-year plan and eventually winning another playoff series, the Lakers have better pieces in place (Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell), as well as more financial flexibility in the next couple of summers, when they won’t be handcuffed by Kobe Bryant‘s contract.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Knicks, without question. This wasn’t the summer I expected the Lakers to remake themselves in free agency. Next summer is when they’ll have the flexibility to get that done and youngsters D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle will have a full NBA season under their belts. We’ve already seen enough of the Knicks, and that’s without Arron Afflalo, Kristaps Porzingis and Robin Lopez in the mix. The Lakers have the luxury of their biggest salaries coming off the books for next summer while the Knicks will not have nearly as much financial flexibility.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Lakers have won championships recently, and Jeanie Buss is asserting leadership and demanding accountability. These are big advantages. Knowing how to win — and especially how to make winning the priority — is a huge deal in the NBA. Can Phil Jackson introduce that point of view to the Knicks? We won’t know until he’s actually done it.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I suppose the answer here depends upon what we define as “respectability.” To me, being a playoff team would be respectable, and in that sense, the Lakers have really tough road ahead of them. The Western Conference is so stacked, it’s going to be a multi-year process for any franchise hoping to become a perennial playoff power. Just initially, take last year’s eight playoff teams, and then add Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Utah, Minnesota, who are all right there on the cusp. That’s a significant mountain for any team to climb.

Report: Kings, Lakers talking Cousins deal

When is “zero interest,” well, slightly more than that?

It was just Monday when team owner Vivek Ranadivé flatly said the Kings were not interested in trading center DeMarcus Cousins.

But now with the 2015 NBA Draft just hours from starting, it seems talks between Sacramento and the Lakers are heating up.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the two Pacific Division rivals exchanged the broad framework of a deal involving Cousins and talks could gain momentum Thursday.

The Kings started to engage with teams and explore possible trade scenarios beyond the Lakers on Wednesday, league sources said. Sacramento management has publicly said it won’t trade Cousins, but that stance has increasingly softened and the franchise is proceeding further on moving him, league sources said.

Whether the Kings are making a sincere effort to accommodate Cousins with a trade – or simply trying to placate him that they tried and were unable to find a suitable deal – will become more apparent in tne next few days.

Kings vice president of basketball operations Vlade Divac has pursued a possible deal that would include a bevy of assets, including the Lakers’ No. 2 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson and other draft assets, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Sacramento also would want to unload the remainder of forward Carl Landry’s two years, $13.5 million contract, league sources said.

While for most teams the notion of moving out a 24-year-old center who is coming off a season of averaging 24.1 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.7 blocked shots would be beyond the pale, Kings management had its hand forced by coach George Karl, who doesn’t believe the emotional Cousins is capable of being the foundation to a team.

When word began to circulate that Karl was pushing Divac to trade the starting center, Cousins felt betrayed and tweeted a not-so-veiled reference to the coach as a “snake in the grass.”

Once Karl’s request for a trade became known, it was a virtual certainty that Cousins would have to be moved. The only questions now is where and when.

Morning shootaround — June 23


VIDEO: Draft HQ’s experts discuss the top 3 prospects in the Draft

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Lakers trying to land Cousins | Report: Wolves shopping Bennett | Conflicting reports on potential Wade-Heat meeting

No. 1: Reports: Lakers interested in trading for Kings’ Cousins; Karl and Cousins on outs? — Guys like Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins are hard to find in the NBA. He’s an All-Star big man, a legit low-post threat on offense, a solid shot-blocker and a double-double player in three of his five seasons to date. It’s not surprising, then, that teams are interested in prying him away from Sacramento, and as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski report, the Los Angeles Lakers are at the front of that line.

Stein had the first information on the trade, so here’s his report on what the Lakers are attempting to do (and some other teams interested in Cousins, too):

Sources told ESPN that the Lakers have been actively pursuing trade scenarios in recent weeks in attempt to construct a deal that would convince the Kings to part with Cousins.

The Kings, though, continue to insist that Cousins is not available. The team’s new lead decision-maker, Vlade Divac, told the Sacramento Bee in Sunday’s editions that dealing away his best player “is not happening.”

Sources say that the Lakers, Kings and Orlando Magic have had exploratory dialogue on a three-way Cousins trade that would land the 24-year-old in Los Angeles. All three teams hold top-6 picks in Thursday’s NBA draft, and Orlando has a young top-flight center of its own in Nikola Vucevic, who could theoretically fill the Cousins void.

Yet since assuming control of the Kings’ front office in April, Divac repeatedly has downplayed the idea of parting with Cousins, who has three seasons left on an extension he signed during the summer of 2013.

The Lakers would appear to have limited assets to get into the trade sweepstakes for Cousins — in the event that Sacramento’s stance changes — beyond surrendering prized young big man Julius Randle, young guard Jordan Clarkson and the No. 2 overall pick in Thursday’s draft. The Lakers, furthermore, could not legally trade the No. 2 pick until after making the selection and introducing that player as a Laker, since teams are precluded from trading first-round picks in consecutive drafts and the Lakers’ 2016 first-rounder is already owed to Philadelphia.

Orlando holds the fifth pick in Thursday’s proceedings but would presumably expect a lot to be willing to part with Vucevic, who signed an extension of his own last October and has become the most consistently productive player from the four-team blockbuster trade in August 2012 that sent Dwight Howard from the Magic to the Lakers.

Wojnarowski’s report digs into how the rocky dynamics between Cousins and coach George Karl may be driving a trade:

Despite Sacramento Kings management’s public insistence that DeMarcus Cousins is unavailable in deals, coach George Karl’s intense desire to trade the All-Star center has made it increasingly unlikely this coach-star partnership can peacefully co-exist next season, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Karl has been recruiting Kings vice president of basketball operations Vlade Divac and multiple players on the Kings’ roster to unite with him in making the case to owner Vivek Ranadive that Cousins needs to be traded, league sources said.

Since the end of the 2014-15 season, Cousins has become aware of Karl’s campaign to move him – including teammates telling Cousins, sources said. All around the Kings and Cousins, there is a growing belief the coach-player relationship is irreparable. Trust is a constant theme with Cousins, and he’s been unable to build any with Karl, sources said.

No one in the Sacramento organization – not coaches, nor players, nor support staff – wants to imagine the combustible scenario awaiting Karl and Cousins should the Kings try to reunite them in training camp.

Ranadive has remained the biggest Kings advocate for holding onto Cousins, and several sources indicate he has become irritated with Karl’s insistence that the coach doesn’t believe he can manage the supremely skilled and strong-minded star. Cousins has held a firm loyalty to former Kings coach Michael Malone, whom Ranadive fired shortly into last season. Under Karl, that relationship couldn’t begin to be duplicated in the final weeks of the season.

For now, the Kings are pursuing trade scenarios for everyone on the roster, including talented forward Rudy Gay, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Sacramento officials believe it will be difficult to find a trade partner that can give the Kings the value it wants for Cousins – and has a better chance to find a deal for Gay, sources said.


Sacramento is motivated to find a way to create more salary-cap space with possible deals, something that the Kings will need to pursue Dallas Mavericks free-agent point guard Rajon Rondo, league sources said. The Kings and Rondo have a mutual interest, with Rondo intrigued with the idea of a potential one-year deal in Sacramento that could help to rebuild his league-wide value, sources said.

Cousins took to Twitter late last night to respond to the talks with a simple message some are implying as meaning a snake in the grass:

And one more Kings thing to note: they may be interested in working a trade with the Denver Nuggets …

***

No. 2: Report: Wolves shopping Bennett — The Minnesota Timberwolves have reason to be excited about Thursday night’s NBA Draft. They have the No. 1 overall pick, and whoever they choose will play alongside the reigning Kia Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins. But as they ready to make the top choice in the Draft, is another former No. 1 overall pick on their roster about to be moved? According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, power forward Anthony Bennett — the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 by the Cleveland Cavaliers — is being shopped about:

The Minnesota Timberwolves have made former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett available via trade in advance of Thursday’s NBA draft, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN that the Timberwolves, who are widely expected to make Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns the No. 1 overall selection Thursday night, are trying to find a new home via trade from Bennett, who unexpectedly went No. 1 overall in 2013 and was acquired by Minnesota last summer from Cleveland in the Kevin Love trade.

The Cavaliers sent Andrew Wiggins and Bennett to Minnesota for Love while also surrendering a future first-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers, which landed then-Sixer Thaddeus Young with the Wolves as well.

In February, Minnesota swapped Young for Kevin Garnett to bring home the most famous player in franchise history.

***

No. 3: Conflicting reports that Wade, Heat have meeting set — Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade has a player option on his contract this summer and his decision must be made, per NBA rules, by next week. Of late, there has been talk of he and the Los Angeles Lakers having mutual interest in each other, and more things have cropped up since then.

According to ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst, Wade and the Heat are supposed to meet next week to discuss his contract:

Wade has until next Monday to decide on whether he’s going to opt in for next season and earn $16.1 million or become an unrestricted free agent.

Wade and the Heat sit far apart on their desires; the Heat would prefer for Wade to opt into the deal and Wade would prefer a new, richer and longer-term contract, sources said.

The sides have not formally spoken in some time. They had discussed a new contract for around $10 million per year for up to three years beyond his current deal, sources said.

Wade, who took a pay cut in 2010 when LeBron James and Chris Boshsigned and again last summer to help make cap space to sign Luol Deng, is interested in a pay raise and not a pay cut.

It is Wade’s desire to stay in Miami and finish his career with the Heat, sources said. However, the gulf between the sides has led to acrimony in recent weeks and cast doubt on Wade’s future. Wade has been disappointed at the team’s initial overtures considering the money he has left on the table in his past two free agencies, sources said.

James, who is Wade’s close friend, has expressed an interest in reuniting with him. However, that scenario is unlikely with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs will not have salary-cap space this summer and could offer Wade only a maximum of a $3.4 million from the taxpayer midlevel exception.

Wade also is interested in the Los Angeles Clippers, sources said, but they are as limited by their commitments and the salary-cap rules as the Cavs. Getting to the Clippers would take either a massive pay cut or the Heat’s unlikely cooperation in a sign-and-trade.

As for the Heat, they have several other roster issues they have to deal with before they might be able to make their best offer to Wade. One is Deng, who has his own opt-in option on next season for $10.1 million that he must decide on by the end of the month.

According to multiple league sources, the Heat are attempting to trade guard Mario Chalmers and big man Chris Andersen to help free up some salary that could ultimately be diverted to Wade. Both going into the final years of their contracts, Andersen and Chalmers are contracted to make a combined $9.3 million next season.

Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel reports, however, that there is no scheduled meeting between Wade and Miami’s brass:

Despite reports to the contrary, a source familiar with the situation told the Sun Sentinel on Monday night that there currently is no meeting scheduled between Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat as the clock ticks toward Wade’s Monday opt-in deadline.

In the wake of a previous ESPN report of such a meeting, a source close to the process said no such meeting between Wade and Pat Riley or other members of the Heat front office has been set.

The source said any meeting with Wade would be more likely to come after the July 1 start of free agency, since the Heat are not allowed to discuss contract parameters until then.

For Wade’s part, his representatives said he will bypass his annual media sessions at the adult basketball camp he is hosting this week at the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood.

The Heat have remained mum on their personnel issues to the point of bypassing their annual pre-draft media session, with no one from the team’s scouting department scheduled to be made available in advance of Thursday’s NBA Draft, with the Heat holding the No. 10 selection.

Agent Henry Thomas told the Sun Sentinel three weeks ago that he expected upcoming contract discussions with the Heat in advance of Wade’s option deadline.

“We’ll just have to see how things continue to develop with the Heat,” he said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Detroit Pistons coach/team president Stan Van Gundy shot down rumors the team is trying to trade for New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. … According to a report, the Oklahoma City Thunder have shopped Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb in hopes of moving up in the Draft … Top prospect D’Angelo Russell recently made his pitch to the Los Angeles Lakers for them to take him No. 2 overall … Brooklyn Nets small forward Thaddeus Young is opting out of his deal to test free agency this summer … Dallas Mavericks guard Raymond Felton opted in with the team for 2015-16

Morning shootaround — May 29


VIDEO: Relive the Warriors’ and Cavs’ conference title clinchers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Breaking down the Thibodeau ouster| Rivers: Paul, Jordan need each other to succeed | Randle aiming for return in Summer League

No. 1: Was Thibodeau enough of a politician?; Clashes with management led to his dismissal— Five seasons, 255 regular-season wins, 23 playoff wins (including an East finals berth) and countless other player-level accolades (developing an MVP, a Defensive Player of the Year and a Most Improved Player) weren’t enough to give Tom Thibodeau job security in Chicago. The Bulls fired Thibodeau yesterday in a not-too-shocking move given the unrest between him and the front office and now, must find his replacement. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski and our own Steve Aschburner chime in on the move with two different viewpoints.

Here’s Wojnarowski on how Thibodeau’s lack of political glad-handing may have led to his firing:

For all the issues that inspired Chicago Bulls management to carry out such a ferocious campaign to discredit Tom Thibodeau – minutes restrictions and personnel disagreements and an inability to simply interact – perhaps the most powerful had been jealousy.

Over and over, those listening to John Paxson and Gar Forman would tell you that Bulls management could never make peace with the praise heaped upon Thibodeau for 60-victory seasons and deep playoff runs. For them, it was too much about the best defense in the NBA, too much about his development of journeymen into rotation contributors, good players into All-Stars, great players into an MVP.

To them, Thibodeau represented a Chicago folk hero who needed to be leveled. Tell them that he was a great coach, and league officials say you’d often hear back from Bulls management that simply, “He’s good.”

If Thibodeau had only the political savvy to publicly praise his bosses, maybe everyone could’ve been spared the years of needless acrimony and drama. As Thibodeau joined the Chicago Bulls five years ago, a coaching friend told him: “Remember to kiss some babies,” a suggestion that he needed to learn to be more of a politician.

Thibodeau played a part in creating the dysfunction. In his next job, he needs to bring with him some lessons learned, needs to understand better that there can be compromises without destroying your values system.

In the end, management won over owner Jerry Reinsdorf to pay out the $9 million owed on Thibodeau’s contract. Reinsdorf has lorded over decades of management-coaching dysfunction – and yet Thursday he was issuing a statement on the firing of Thibodeau as a way to stay true to the organization’s “culture.” That’s been a screwed-up culture for a long, long time. Between Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose, the Bulls were a mess. When Thibodeau arrived, so did the winning – and then, so did the loathing between management and his staff.

Those close to Thibodeau say that Reinsdorf’s statement stung the coach on Thursday, that he had treasured his relationship with the owner. Thibodeau has always admired Reinsdorf’s accomplishments – a self-made tycoon, a successful sports and media mogul – and always felt that Reinsdorf had been an ally for him. Reinsdorf wasn’t around much, though, and talked far more with management than the coach. Thibodeau lost Reinsdorf in the past year, and ultimately lost the job.

Before the end of Thursday night, Thibodeau had sounded enthusiastic to close associates. He was thinking about the next job, about the possibilities out there. Throughout the day, Thibodeau was getting texts and calls from old players – with the Knicks and Rockets and Celtics and, yes, Bulls – and they say that it moved him.

In the hours after his firing, Tom Thibodeau hadn’t sounded angry to his friends – only nostalgic. Five years is a good run in the NBA; it’s just a matter of time until someone else comes calling for him.

And here’s Aschburner on how Thibodeau’s firing may have come as a result of the years-long feud between he and the front office:

Paxson and Forman spoke with assembled Chicago media for about 25 minutes Thursday afternoon at United Center, by which time Thibodeau had been told his services no longer needed and departed the Advocate Center practice facility across the street. He leaves with two years remaining on his contract, worth a reported $9 million, and the freedom to take a new NBA job (New Orleans remains the source of greatest speculation) or sit out to collect the Bulls’ money, whichever suits him. Paxson and Forman said the Bulls weren’t dragging their heels on Thibodeau’s firing to block him until available coaching vacancies were filled — that makes sense, since whatever he’d earn in 2015-16 would offset what they’d still owe him.

But the way it all was handled — Reinsdorf’s salvos lobbed at the coach in support of his guys in suits, the Bulls’ brain trust being far more available and talkative on Thibodeau’s fate after it had been sealed than while it was salvageable, an apparent Cold War in addressing their communication breakdowns and a sense that egos ruled the day more than the good sense to make things work among proven professionals — fit a little too comfortably into the franchise’s history. Or its vaunted “culture” that got mentioned time and time again Thursday.

Remember former Jerry Krause‘s notorious comment that “organizations win championships?” And the bad blood between Krause and coach Phil Jackson, and Krause and stars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? This was that, the same mood, just different principals.

One NBA head coach referred to Friday’s events in Chicago as “a crucifixion.” Another spoke of “the knife Reinsdorf stabbed in Thibodeau’s back” on the way out.

Among the things Thibodeau did in his time with Chicago was help Rose become the league’s youngest MVP, turned Luol Deng into a two-time All-Star, drill Noah into the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year and a fourth-place finisher in MVP balloting in 2014 and oversee Jimmy Butler‘s development as this season’s Most Improved Player. He got veteran Pau Gasol to perform at a level that made him an All-Star starter for the first time.

Of course, NBA players are survivors, so it’s not surprising that some of them reportedly weren’t happy with Thibodeau, his grinding work demands and what some of them felt was a limited offensive repertoire. Some were said to have complained in exit interviews with Forman and Paxson, and they didn’t exactly throw themselves in front of the divorce train when asked about the “noise” in March and April.

So who might the Bulls’ new boss be? Forman and Paxson made it sound like they were only now about to rev up a full-blown coaching search, which is hard to believe. Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, a Forman crony from way back who spent part of his NBA career in Chicago, has been the No. 1 candidate — at least in speculation –since before the season began. The idea that the Bulls would make this leap of cutting loose Thibodeau without having their parachute strapped on, or at least within reach, strains credulity.

Hoiberg is a bright basketball mind, a solid individual and, aside from a health record that required a second open-heart procedure recently, certainly capable of the Xs & Os required in the job. Certainly, he is communicative enough — and clued in enough now — to stroke Bulls upper management in the ways it apparently needs.


VIDEO: K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune analyzes the Thibodeau firing

*** (more…)

Blogtable: Knicks or Lakers in future?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Kyrie’s 57 or Klay’s 37? | The rest issue … | Brighter future: Knicks or Lakers?



VIDEOLooking back on better days for the Knicks and Lakers

> Phil Jackson and Jeanie Buss had an in-arena date last week, with Jackson’s Knicks getting a victory over Buss’s Lakers. Which of these high-profile NBA executives will be more satisfied with their team’s rebuild 12 months from now?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Buss. The Lakers, as soon as they have money to spend, will be able to flex their legacy and locale advantages in free agency in ways the Knicks’ miserable recent history will preclude. Also, I get the sense that upbeat Jeanie is more easily satisfied than cantankerous Phil, so personality plays a role in this too.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Hoo boy, that’s a bar so low that Gumby couldn’t limbo under it. Satisfaction is hardly the word to use. I’ll take a flyer on the Lakers with a healthy Julius Randle and their top five draft pick roughly co-existing with Kobe Bryant’s latest comeback over a top-flight rookie and Carmelo Anthony learning the secrets of the triangle. But neither sniffs the playoffs again, so misery can continue holding hands and making goo-goo eyes with company.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comMore satisfied being the key, since neither will be satisfied in 12 months. The Lakers will have made the most progress by this time next year, with one important disclaimer: as long as they keep their lottery pick that is top-five protected. Neither will be a good situation, barring a shocking veteran pickup in the summer. But the Lakers will be the better of the not good.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWell, Jeannie isn’t on contract, so I guess Phil will want and need to see some rather significant improvement a year from now. I’ll give the edge to Phil. Kobe is already on record saying the Lakers shouldn’t do anything rash and destructive just to surround him with ready-to-win talent next season, so the Lakers should continue with a gradual rebuild. Meanwhile, Phil convinced the Knicks to invest so much into Carmelo Anthony that some justification is in order for the Zen Master.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: New York. The Lakers already have a Lottery pick — Julius Randle — in hand and, with the league’s fourth worst record, only a 17 percent chance of losing their top-five protected pick to the Philadelphia 76ers. But the Knicks have the better and younger star player, as well as a better chance at one of the top two picks, where the true difference makers will likely be. Furthermore, Derek Fisher probably has a better ability to coach a young team up than Byron Scott, who floundered in a similar opportunity in Cleveland.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Jeanie Buss has the Lakers’ history of always finding their way back to relevance on her side. The lure of playing for a franchise smothered in championship lore and in one of the most desirable locations on the planet will somehow win out. The Knicks have so much ground to make up that they’d need some blind luck to beat the Lakers to the finish line of respectability. I just don’t see them getting there before the Lakers a year from now. Free agency this summer will be the key, of course. Whoever gets the most done in July and August will have the best shot at winning this one.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Lakers are going to be able to sign someone good this summer, add another high pick to Julius Randle (the luck of the lottery willing), hope for a meaningful comeback year from Kobe Bryant, and then go back into free agency in 2016 with the heavy tailwind of the new TV contract and the extra cap space it will create. Jeanie is a better salesperson than Phil, and she has more to sell.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogPhil. The reason I have to give the Zen Master the nod is that both organizations will presumably, at some point, have to tear things down before they build them up. And the Knicks are well on their way to doing that. This time next year, the Lakers will be nearing the end of Kobe Bryant’s contract and trying to figure out where to go next. And if history is any teacher, Lakers management hasn’t exactly inspired confidence.

Blogtable: Struggling marquee teams

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on Cavs’ deal? | Struggling marquee teams | Where will Dirk finish?



VIDEOAre the Lakers better off with Kobe Bryant playing less?

> Three of the NBA’s marquee franchises — Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, L.A. Lakers — are a combined 27-77 and hold little hope for short-term success. If these teams were stocks, which one would you buy, which one would you hold, and which one would you sell?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d buy more Lakers stock, hold what I have of the Knicks and sell my Celtics holdings. The Lakers have the greatest upside because of their culture and their climate — they’re the biggest free-agent magnet of the three thanks to their market and their recent history. Now that Phil Jackson has begun the serious demo work in New York, I think he and the Knicks can build something better, especially as Carmelo Anthony‘s dominance of the team begins to recede. As for that storied franchise in Boston, I’d invoke the phrase familiar to financial speculators: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I can’t convince you to take all three off my hands for, say, the Grizzlies? OK, if you’re forcing me to buy, I’ll take the Lakers. They’re still THE marquee team in the league and when Kobe Bryant finally does retire — looking more and more like after next season, for sure — they’ll have the salary cap space and the cachet that will let them start over. Not to mention a rehabbed Julius Randle and another high draft pick from this season. I’m holding the Celtics because I believe Danny Ainge has the right coach to build on in Brad Stevens, a future All-Star in Marcus Smart and a patient long-range plan. I’m selling the Knicks because, well, they’re the Knicks. After this salary dump this week, Phil Jackson will go into next summer with the space to sign two max level free agents, maybe three. if the cap takes a big leap. Trouble is, he’ll do the usual NY thing and after finding the possibility of luring LeBron James or Kevin Love from Cleveland a pipe dream and having LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol not willing to climb aboard the worst team in the league, Jackson will wind up grossly overpaying the likes of Jimmy Butler or Goran Dragic and merely making the Knicks mediocre to good, but not contenders.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHold the Lakers, hold the Celtics, sell the Knicks. (Why did you ever buy on the Knicks in the first place? No wonder you switched brokers.) Investing in the Lakers now looks bad because not only is it a lottery team, it’s a lottery team with one piece in place for the future and he is injured. (Julius Randle.) But I’d hang on to stock on a team in a destination city and Mitch Kupchak with a loud voice in management. It would not be a surprise if even the lottery Lakers bag a big free agent. The Celtics front office likewise has a proven track record, plus the best young pieces among the three. Boston also has the advantage of being in the East.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Definitely buy the Celtics. They have seven extra first-rounders (some conditional) coming between now and 2018 and there isn’t a sluggish contract weighing down the salary cap. Plus, Boston remains a destination for free agents. Hold the Lakers. I realize they owe future picks to Phoenix and Orlando and Kobe is clogging up cap space, but they’re still the Lakers and somehow find a way to keep their pain to a minimum (I know, I know, GM Jerry West isn’t walking through that door). Sell the Knicks. Phil Jackson deserves a chance, but this team is cursed.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’m buying the Celtics, because they have the best group of young players (by far), the most future picks, and the GM/coach combination that I have the most confidence in going forward. I’m holding the Lakers, because they have one Lottery pick already on board, maybe another on the way (it may go to Phoenix), and a shorter contract with their 30-plus, former league’s leading scorer who doesn’t fit the rebuilding timeline. And I’m selling the Knicks, because they have nothing beyond a 30-year-old forward they just signed to a five-year, $124 million contract (Carmelo Anthony), an unproven team president (Phil Jackson) and an unproven coach (Derek Fisher). Nothing’s guaranteed in free agency.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’m buying Lakers’ stock, holding the Celtics’ stock and selling all of my Knicks stock. I know that the Lakers never stay down for long. It’s just not what they do as a franchise. They’ll do whatever takes to get back on track. They’ve operated that way and probably always will — provided there is a Buss in charge. The Celtics have some decent pieces and a bright, young coach in Brad Stevens. They just need time to figure it all out. The Knicks have no business being in this marquee mix with the Lakers and Celtics. They haven’t come close to the championship success the other two have enjoyed in recent years. I’m selling on them until Phil Jackson works his Zen magic and convinces another superstar to join Carmelo Anthony in the seemingly eternal quest to return the Knicks to their 1970s glory.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI would buy the Celtics, who are fully committed to rebuilding and are two years into the business of asset (Draft picks, young players and cap space) aggregation. I would hold the Lakers, who — eventually — will draw the interest of free agents. And I would sell the Knicks, who after so many self-destructive years are unworthy of faith until they themselves prove otherwise.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: SELL, SELL, SELL! OK, to really answer your question, I’d buy the Celtics, hold the Knicks and sell the Lakers. Danny Ainge gets the benefit of the doubt in Boston because we’ve seen him reboot his franchise before, plus the Celtics have five first-round picks in the next two Drafts. That’s a heckuva place to start. I know the Knicks are terrible this season, but I like the direction Phil Jackson’s going — bottoming out before building back up. That starts with clearing salary and getting young players in to learn the triangle offense and grow along with the franchise. With the Lakers, I’m not quite sure what they’re doing. They’ve tried to rebuild through free agency but the current management hasn’t shown an ability to recruit the marquee free agents we keep hearing about them going after.